Between two songs, there’s always a good moment for the frontman to light a cigarette and have a relaxed chat with the audience. It looks cool and serves the Rock ‘n’ Roll image well.
But is it a good idea either? There’s a lot talking about vocal health and how to keep in shape for long-term career maintenance.
Does smoking affect your singing voice? If yes, to which extent? Or is it much ado about nothing?
In the next few paragraphs, I will address all these questions and shed an objective light on this ongoing discussion.
Are Singers More Prone To Smoking?
Currently, there are one billion smokers worldwide.
While you could get the impression, that the lifestyle of artists with heavy partying would show a higher rate of smokers, recent statistical outcomes paint a different picture.
According to multiple surveys1 singers (clustered with arts, designs and entertainment) are in the mid range of all professions, with ranging smoker rates between 14 to 17%.
Graphic by vapourlites.com
Ongoing trends since 1974 the proportion of smokers, who have quit, overtakes the proportion of current smokers. When you look at the vast amount of anti smoking campaigns and restrictions that were put in place over the last years, it seems plausible.
Science Says Smoking Lowers The Voice
I found some interesting studies conducted with smokers and non-smokers.
They measured different vocal parameters, e.g. fundamental frequency to analyze the impact of smoking to the voice.
Results of a Brazilian study showed, that in a relatively short time period (< 10 years), fundamental frequency parameters were significantly decreased in all smoking groups. The effect was especially seen in female smokers, which had a frequency decrease of 14Hz on average, compared to the non-smoker group.
This means that, if you smoke for couple of years, your voice gets deeper and you lose some of your nice high notes. The vocal change is considered to be a result of vocal edemas due to tobacco exposure.
Observations From The Music Biz
When you take a look at some popular singers, you may be surprised, who else is a smoker or used to smoke.
Nat King Cole
Enrico Caruso (!)
Ronnie James Dio
The Rat Pack
Hardly did you hear the story, that one gave up smoking due to vocal problems. Don’t get me wrong. I don’t want to idolize smoking singers. No, don’t smoke at all, it’s harming your overall health.
But let us for a minute judge it objectively, by answering some interesting questions.
– How could one of the best tenors of all time, Enrico Caruso, be a heavy smoker and still deliver the best high C performances?
– How could someone like Dean Martin, who eventually died of lung cancer, keep his unique smooth voice throughout his entire career?
How To Smoke And Sing Like An Angel
If, despite all unfavorable health prospects, you can’t or don’t want to quit smoking, you should take some actions to keep your voice in good shape.
The best prevention for a damaged voice is singing with a solid and healthy technique.
If you learn how to use the airflow properly and sing efficiently with only minor engagement, you will enter a world of maximum outcome with only little effort.
Moreover, alcohol has a much deeper immediate impact on the vocal chords than cigarettes will ever do.
Remember the last morning after a boozy night. When you woke up to answer the phone, you sounded like Barry White. That’s the result of swollen vocal chords. In this respect, smoking and drinking is a terrible combination.
My Personal Experiences
I was a smoker for 15 years. My daily average nicotine consumption roughly comprised one pack of cigarettes. Although I’m happy, I finally quit, (what was much easier than I thought in the first place), I leave it up to anyone’s own decision.
Throughout my “smoking career”, I started taking voice lessons and seriously working on my vocal skills. There was a period of 10 years, where smoking and singing overlapped and a single year, where I stopped smoking for the first time.
I can only speak for myself, but interestingly I didn’t notice that big of a difference, when I was still smoking and the times of cessation. Neither did I have a clearer voice, nor did I experience more ease/more struggle within my given vocal range.
That lead me to my personal conclusion, that the effects smoking has on your vocal skills might probably not be as serious as supposed.
On the other hand, I was never a heavy-touring singer, who had to go to his vocal limits night after night. That might have an additional impact.
Without any doubt, smoking is an unhealthy habit, which can seriously harm your health. There’s no good reason to smoke at all and if you still do it, quit, as fast as you can.
Nevertheless, looking at the effects, smoking can have on ones singing voice, there are ambivalent findings.
On the one hand, science proofed that smoking over several years can cause vocal edemas, which result in a lower voice. On the other hand, there are multiple examples of famous singers, who heavily smoked and yet kept their voices on a high level throughout their careers.
However, there are some good strategies to keep your singing voice in shape, even if you don’t want to say goodbye to your daily dose of tobacco. First and foremost, singing with proper and healthy technique, will save your voice for many, many years.
1. Cigarette Smoking Trends Among U.S. Working Adult by Industry and Occupation: Findings From the 2004–2012 National Health Interview Survey; Nicotine Tob Res. 2015 May; 17(5): 599–606.
3. Office for national statistics: Adult smoking habits in the UK: 2017
4. Early effects of smoking on the voice:A multidimensional study; Med Sci Monit,2004;10(12):CR649-656
Did you like what you just read? Are you a singing smoker or have you quit, already?
Tell me what you think about this topic and/or your experiences. I’m curious!